Recycling and waste management myths explored
Inspired by MRW magazine’s recent ‘Busting the myths that surround UK waste‘ feature – to which UNTHA UK contributed – managing director Chris Oldfield shares some of his thoughts. What misconceptions exist in this complex industry, and what truth actually lies behind these often somewhat skewed viewpoints?
Myth 1: When it comes to recycling and waste management, the UK cannot do things as well as in Europe
For many years the UK’s approach to waste management has been criticised for lagging behind other European nations. Of course the level of recycling excellence in countries such as Austria and Germany is something to aspire to. However, for as long as we have trailed behind, we have been brainwashed into believing that everything done on the Continent is bigger and better than what we can achieve here.
Admittedly the UK still faces challenges. A lack of financial investment for example, restricts the scale of progress that we are able to make. Yet we certainly have the capabilities to thrive. We have better embraced waste and recycling technologies, we have a number of passionate resource efficiency advocates that are stirring a motion, and attitudes towards ‘waste’ are changing.
The UK and Ireland achieved the fastest household recycling rate increase in Europe, for instance, between 2001 and 2010. This degree of progress deserves a pat on the back. Also, having grown continuously since 2006, the waste industry is now reportedly worth around £10bn.
Whilst a lot of hard work still lies ahead, I genuinely believe we are moving towards a position where we can confidently say “anything they can do, we can do better”.
Myth 2: RDF wouldn’t benefit from a quality standard
Many industry professionals argue that quality is not a priority when it comes to RDF production. Whilst it is crucial with SRF – a refined resource manufactured to a defined specification – comparatively crude RDF isn’t produced to such strict criteria. End users simply don’t have the same quality requirements and customers on the continent are in fact very happy with the quality of RDF being exported.
However it must be remembered that there is wealth in waste and at present, valuable revenue-generating recyclates such as metals are also being shipped abroad. It is no wonder that European customers have so few complaints.
At the same time as exporting a valuable energy source, our manufacturers are exporting their profits too. However, a slightly more methodical, quality-controlled approach to RDF production would enable more recyclable materials to be extracted and sold. The result is the creation of an additional revenue stream and better support for the waste hierarchy.
The lack of quality control in this area of manufacturing also does nothing to dispel the perception that RDF is a dirty fuel. We need to improve such attitudes so that EfW technologies become more widely accepted domestically.
Chris Oldfield, managing director UNTHA UK
What are your views? Can you think of any other common myths in waste and recycling? Share your ideas with us.